What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago this week?
“He does not Doubt but their Cheapness will be sufficient Recommendation to Traders and Shop Keepers to become his Customers.”
Like many other advertisements in the New-York Journal and other newspapers published throughout the colonies, John Thurman’s notice listed “a large Assortment of Goods” that he imported and offered for sale. Shopkeepers who dealt directly with end-use consumers placed many of those advertisements, but merchants who sold wholesale placed similar notices. Advertisers sometimes made it clear whether they parted with their wares wholesale, retail, or both, but not always. Abeel and Vynack, for instance, explicitly stated that they sold “wholesale and retale,” but Edward Laight did not mention which methods he practiced. Laight was not alone. Many eighteenth-century newspaper notices did not indicate what types of buyers the advertisers sought, though that may have been considered unnecessary since many readers already would have been familiar enough with local merchants and shopkeepers to distinguish between them when perusing their advertisements.
Even under those circumstances, some advertisers did address particular sorts of customers, especially in the process of advancing other appeals intended to make their merchandise more attractive. Thurman, for instance, believed that the low prices he set for his goods “will be sufficient Recommendation to Traders and Shop Keepers to become his Customers.” He explained that he sold textiles, adornments, and other wares “at the lowest Rates.” He was able to do so because “he purchased the Goods himself from the Manufactories.” In other words, he bypassed English merchants, the middlemen notorious for passing along higher prices to colonial consumers. By dealing directly with the producers, Thurman kept prices down for both retailers and, ultimately, their customers.
Given the distribution of the New-York Journal and other colonial newspapers, advertisers like Thurman addressed “Traders and Shop Keepers” in towns and villages as well as retailers in busy port cities. Those who did not live in the vicinity of Thurman’s “Store in Wall-Street” in New York may not have been as familiar with his status as a wholesale rather than retailer. Making it clear that he sought customers who wished to buy in volume for resale may not have been necessary as far as his neighbors were concerned, but essential in cultivating a wider market for his merchandise. Explaining that he kept prices low by eliminating English merchants from the distribution chain may have made his wares more attractive to country “Traders and Shop Keepers” looking to acquire inventory from merchants in the city. Thurman certainly made more effort to entice them with his explanation of his supply chain than Abeel and Vynack did when they simply stated that “they prose selling reasonably, wholesale and retale.”